Leadership Coach, Teacher & Author, Revolutionary
Amanda Blake has devoted her life to the spread of one simple message: when you learn how to access the intelligence hidden in sensation, you open the door to more meaning, greater courage, deeper connection, and more powerful leadership than you ever thought possible.
For the last decade, she has worked with socially conscious entrepreneurs to support the growth of their leadership capacity using a holistic, body-oriented approach. She holds a degree in Human Biology from Stanford University, and is the author of the forthcoming book Your Body Is Your Brain.
My personal practice is…
My practice has shifted and changed over the years, but I always have some sort of morning practice. At root, it is about being quiet with myself, and deepening my relationship inside. For many years, this looked like a traditional meditation practice. During another period, it looked like a simple martial arts movement flow, coupled with speaking my most important commitments aloud. Right now, it looks like this: a daily morning walk by the river, coupled with a simple breathing practice to quiet my mind and settle my heart. I find it deeply nourishing to start the day by spending a few moments with myself and with the quiet source of creativity.
How did you discover your practice?
This is a hard question for me to answer, especially because my practice has changed form throughout the years. I have had many teachers who have inspired different aspects of my practice at different times. My practice has been inspired by books, by teachers I have studied with, and by my own experimentation. Probably the deepest level of discovery comes from simply observing what beginning my day this way does for me and does for my life.
Why do you practice?
Fundamentally, to deepen my relationship and trust in the source of all life, and to join with that creative force in bringing my highest contribution into the world.
How frequently and for how long do you practice?
I practice daily, though it always becomes more challenging when I travel, which is frequently. I usually spend at least 30 minutes in the morning; I prefer an hour if I can swing it.
What’s something that gets in the way of your practice and how do you move through it?
The biggest thing, for me, is travel. Being not-at-home, being in a cityscape where access to unconstrained nature is more difficult, being beholden to someone else’s schedule… all of these things make it harder to practice. I am most consistent with my practice during long stretches of time at home. I am more intermittent with my practice when on the road.
The most important thing for me in hurdling these difficulties is to approach the challenge with a loving attitude. By this I mean: reminding myself that life is an organic process. I don’t need to make myself a machine around my practice. I can be committed and consistent, and still skip a day or even several days at times. I also mean: reminding myself of how nourished I feel when I practice. Choosing that nourishment and making it a priority over the other things competing for my time and attention. And I mean: being flexible. Adjusting my practice to the time and space I find myself in. Seeking the result (nourishment, connection, deepening trust) without being overly attached to the form.
What supports you in staying committed to your practice?
It makes a difference having friends who are also in their own committed practice. It doesn’t matter whether their practice is the same form as mine or not. What matters is that we each know both the joys and hardships of having a committed practice, and can face the challenges together. Finding time to practice in our busy lives is an ever-present challenge. It makes a difference when a friend says “maybe you need some time by the river” or “maybe you need to pull out your jo*” or “maybe you need to sit for a bit.” And I can say the same kind of thing to them. These friends-who-practice are an invaluable support to me – as I am to them – in remaining committed and consistent.
* A ‘jo’ is a wooden staff from the martial art aikido.
What role does your practice play in your work?
Ha! What role doesn’t it play?
For one thing, my work is ultimately about helping people connect more deeply with their embodied wisdom. If I wasn’t doing this on a daily basis myself, I would be teaching and coaching from a set of ideas rather than my own experience. Not only is that far less powerful, it’s also entirely inconsistent with what I teach.
When I am faced with difficult decisions in my work, or challenging relationships, or financial pressures, or really any other challenge, my practice is my refuge. Being in nature and spending quiet time with myself allows for a more realistic perspective on all those problems. I am able to remember how incredibly small those details are in the grand scheme of things, even though they may be looming large in my mind at the moment. Putting things in their proper perspective helps me deal with them much more effectively.
And finally, when I practice I am simply more grounded, more settled, and more calm throughout my day. I allow myself to follow my inspirations more, rather than being beholden to a plan. I’m more productive. In general, it just feels like there’s a lot more space.
Describe someone you know whose practice inspires you.
My friend Jay Fields of Grace and Grit Yoga relies on her yoga practice to access her intuitive guidance on a decision-by-decision basis. I have many friends who are committed to some regular form of practice, but Jay stands out as someone who has been particularly successful at making her practice both practical and applied.
I am also inspired by Tachi Kiuchi, the former CEO of Mitsubishi. When I knew him, he had racked up something like 20 years doing 100 pushups every single morning, without fail. Rain or shine, illness or health, traveling or at home, he literally never missed a day. My approach is deliberately more flexible than that, but I am nevertheless awed and inspired by that kind of dedication.
A practice I’d like to explore is…
I would like to revive my gratitude practice. For about two or three years I wrote down at least three things a day that I was grateful for. Once you start to look, there is so much! The list is nearly unending. Breathing in and out. The beautiful pinecone sitting in the corner. My sweetheart reading on the couch. The delicious breakfast I just had. It becomes hard to stop at just three!
I found this practice made life more of a celebration and it helped me overcome my tendency to look at what’s missing and what could be improved upon. There’s no doubt that’s a useful orientation in certain situations, but as a way to live life? NOT!
So I’d like to revive this gratitude practice, and I’ll begin by expressing gratitude to The Practice Project for reminding me how much I enjoy it and inspiring me to begin again!
By the way, this simple gratefulness practice has been shown to modulate depression as much and in some cases even more than anti-depressants. So for anyone reading this who might be suffering through some sadness or despair, I highly, highly recommend writing down three things a day that you are grateful for. It’s simple, it’s powerful, and it sure can’t hurt!
Anything else you’d like to share about practice.
As you’ve probably seen from my answers thus far, I am not committed to one specific form of practice above all others. I really, really don’t believe in making yourself a machine around practice – or around anything, really. I feel it’s much more important to be clear about WHY you are practicing. If you are clear about that, then you can successfully shift your daily walk by the river in the mountains to savoring a cup of tea in your hotel room, when you need to.
That’s not to say you do something different every day and call it practice, though. That’s a bit of a cop out. It is important, I believe, to have a core set of practices that stay consistent over an extended period of time, even if different eras see substantial shifts. There are many benefits of practicing one thing repeatedly, including that you continually get to see how you are different in it each moment, each day. Practice can teach you a great deal about yourself, if you pay attention.
Not everyone would agree with this, but for me what has worked is to learn how to be both consistent and flexible. This allows me to move fluidly with life as it is, rather than adhering to some rigidly idealized version of life as I think it should be. For me, this has been a bigger support to consistency of practice than perhaps anything else.
Learn more about Amanda’s work and download the free Stress to Serenity Guide at embright.org.